Remember how you felt as a child eagerly anticipating the magic and wonder of Christmas morning? Well, that’s kind of how I feel about Epcot’s annual International Food and Wine Festival. I look forward to it all year, study each country’s menu prior to the event, and wake up way too early the day of because I’m just too darn excited! When that silver Epcot ball comes into view and I start spotting the various colorful displays announcing the festival and welcoming me there I practically squeal with childlike delight. The aromas pull at me, my stomach grumbles in response and my fingers twitch, eager to get ahold of those small plates containing a delicious array of global cuisines. And I know I’m not alone—this festival draws out hungry crowds of foodies, everyone from the vegan to the wine connoisseur to the person who’s never even tasted a crème brulee in their life, let alone one created by a culinary team of France’s finest. There is so much offered at this event that runs from September 19 to November 10, much more than just simply grazing through the World Showcase. And it can be quite overwhelming to those stepping foot onto theme park grounds, even if you’ve attended the event in years’ past. Here is a list of things you need to know before you go!
1. Make a pit stop at the Festival Welcome Center.
Located in Future World East between The Universe of Energy and Mission: SPACE this place is brimming with information, seminars, souvenirs, meet and greets and chocolate like you’ve never imagined! Here you can purchase a small gift card wrist band (amongst other places) and get the lowdown on all the festival’s happenings. The handy wearable gift card makes grazing your way around the park very easy as you don’t have to fish for your wallet at each kiosk and allows you to put the exact dollar amount that you have budgeted for. Also available at the Festival Welcome Center (and at each country if you forget) is the Marketplace Festival Passport which is another convenient tool, allowing you the opportunity to browse each country’s menu and get it stamped as well upon each food or drink purchase!
As the official “headquarters” of the festival, you will find several different areas within the Welcome Center. There is a wine section containing hundreds of the bottles being showcased at the festival and you can sample and purchase your favorites from all around the world. At “Seasons of the Vine” you can kick back and watch a short film on winemaking. There will also be book signings, bottle signings and meet and greets with some prominent and well-renowned culinary chefs. You can sit for a presentation at the Festival Welcome Center and learn everything from basic cooking to how to decorate a cake, and everything in between. Check out the Disney World website for specific seminars held here as well as their varying prices. Also located inside this “hub” is the Intermission Café where you can have a small meal as you sit and admire all the unique souvenirs around you, such as special event aprons featuring “chef” Figment, bags of ketchup chips, and cookbooks just to name a few. Don’t miss the opportunity to browse around inside the Ghirardelli® Chocolate Company room where you can get a free sample of one of their divine chocolates and admire some of the most wondrous Disney-themed chocolate displays your eyes have ever witnessed!
2. Nibble your way around the World Showcase.
In case you missed it, this is what the Food and Wine Festival is really all about! There are 25 International Marketplace Booths offering unique and delicious cuisines from around the world and giving you the opportunity to partake in some seriously phenomenal food. Try a shrimp taco from Mexico, sip at a Bunratty Meade Honey Wine in Ireland or indulge in a salted caramel crème brulee from France just to name a few. The festival itself is included in your regular park admission though each and every food/drink sample comes at an additional charge. Be warned, these can add up fast so make sure you have a plan if you are trying to keep that budget in check.
3. Resort guests can purchase a premium package.
Guests staying at one of the Walt Disney World resorts have the opportunity to purchase the Premium Package which will cost $199 per person (plus tax, plus Epcot admission). A hefty fee, yes, but this package does include a host of items that just might make it worth your while. Upon entering your hotel room there will be a select bottle of wine waiting for you as well as a Festival wine glass and chocolate truffles. It also includes a one-time admission to the new after-hours party on a Thursday evening, a uniquely themed MagicBand, a $50.00 Disney Gift Card, and use of 10 special roped-off concierge areas around the World Showcase where cast members will take your order and bring your selected Marketplace foods to you. The after-hours party, by itself is $79.00 per person and is available to all Epcot guests.
4. You can feel like a VIP for “free,” if you carry a Chase Visa Card.
Because this festival is once again sponsored by Chase, there will be a special lounge located at the American pavilion strictly for Chase Visa cardholders. I haven’t visited the lounge just yet this year, but last year it was basically a large, air conditioned room located on the third floor of the American Adventure pavilion with complimentary soda and a bunch of chairs and tables. Coming here will also provide you an opportunity to charge your electronic device if you so choose. In previous years, they’ve also offered small snacks and chocolates.
5. You can sway to the beat and savor your eats all at once.
The Eat to the Beat concert series is in full swing once again during this year’s festival. Popular bands and individual artists from the 70s, 80s, 90s and today perform three times per evening at the American Gardens Theater in the American Adventure Pavilion. These concerts come at no additional charge and provide some great entertainment. Examples of some of the performers this year include Hanson, Sugar Ray, Boyz II Men, David Cook and Jo Dee Messina.
6. You can treat yourself to a unique dining experience.
For an additional fee you can find one of MANY spectacular specialty food experiences located all over the theme park, such as a Mediterranean Food & Wine pairing in Morocco featuring a 5-course dinner, a Grand Marnier liqueur seminar in France, and a celebrity chef seminar with the likes of food stars such as Cat Cora, Jamie Deen and Robert Irvine. Truly, there is something for everyone. If you want to learn more about cheese, there’s a seminar for that. Always wanted to know the ins and outs of pickling? There’s a seminar for that. Do you have an insatiable sweet tooth and want to sample various dessert and cordials? There’s a private session for that too! Browse through the Walt Disney World website and find one that suits your tastes and your budget.
7. If you are a beer lover, head over to The Odyssey!
If you enjoy sipping on a cold brewski you are certainly in for a treat this year as they have moved the “Craft Beers” booth into the Odyssey center. This center is more of a lounge for people who need an air-conditioned break and is roomy and spacious with plenty of places to sit and relax. There is a kiosk inside and an impressive menu with food options such as spicy pimento cheese dip with whole-wheat crackers or muffuletta pinwheels with house-made pickles, not to mention a huge selection of specialty beers. You can, of course, enjoy beer from most of the World Marketplace Booths, but you’ll find a completely different and enjoyable atmosphere here at The Odyssey.
8. There are Signature Dinners available during the Festival months outside of Epcot.
During the course of the festival months you can purchase a Signature Dinner which includes a meal and wine pairing available at various restaurants throughout the Disney World property. Many of these dinners are located outside of theme park grounds and feature a host chef and wine representative giving you the lowdown on your courses and drinks. Examples of the locations include Raglan Road in Downtown Disney, the Flying Fish Café at Boardwalk and Narcoossee’s at The Grand Floridian Resort. Prices vary and theme park admission is not required, except for the signature dinners at The Hollywood Brown Derby and Le Cellier Steakhouse.
9. There is entertainment around every corner.
Keep your eyes peeled for some enjoyable entertainment unique to the festival months. I spotted The Jammin’ Chefs outside near the Festival Welcome Center, performing their impressive music making routine while banging on pots, pans and other kitchen-like objects. They have jokes and corny one-liners, they have serious musical talent, and they are definitely worth stopping and watching!
A fair word of warning…
Weather—The weather in Florida is an unpredictable beast, suffocating and blazing-hot one minute, rainy and humid the next. It can be surprisingly cool at night as well (hey, I’m a Floridian—it’s cool to ME). Check the forecast before you head out and pack that poncho if you are intent on going during a high percentage of rain. And don’t forget to stuff a sweater or hoodie into that bag if you are heading out during the popular evening hours.
Crowds—The festival draws out thousands upon thousands of spectators and foodies, meaning there is a good chance you’ll have to wait in lengthy lines at the booths and shuffle through heavy crowds during peak times (nights and weekends). Bring your patience with you and don’t worry, those lines move fairly quickly anyway.
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Time—I always recommend to try and portion out your Food and Wine Festival experience over the span of at least a couple of days if you can. There is SO MUCH to see and taste that trying to cram it into just one day might be a little difficult not to mention taxing. It certainly is possible though, just don’t forget your comfy shoes and your appetite!
Beware of the drunk Vikings—I go every year to the Festival and it never fails, I inevitably encounter that group of people who’ve clearly had one too many and obnoxiously announce their presence wherever they are. I’ve had the misfortune of encountering inebriated “Vikings” (people who, while I’m assuming are in a state of drunken stupor, decided it would be hilarious to wear those plastic Norway souvenir hats as they traipse around the World Showcase and try to interact with innocent park goers) two years back to back now. While amusing to some, to most it’s inappropriate and downright insufferable. You might be more susceptible to encountering more of the overly imbibed behavior as the sun sets and night creeps in, so if you’re keen on trying to avoid things like this then your best bet is to hit the World Showcase right when it opens. There is, of course, no guaranteeing it as you are at a festival where the beer and wine is flowing but going earlier in the day will better your odds of dodging this type of behavior. Despite the occasional scene, there’ve never been enough instances to completely deter me from attending as the majority of festival goers are pleasant and responsible!
For more information about Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, be sure to check out the official Disney page epcotfoodfestival.com.